At the Cannes Film Festival, it’s usually the movie stars that steal the limelight on the red carpet. But not to be outdone by Hollywood actors, the darling of the French Riviera has had a facelift too, with new beaches, swish restaurants and glittering hotels making Cannes the hottest thing on show right now.

Kendall Jenner poses in a dress on the red carpet at Cannes Film Festival in 2018
Kendall Jenner stole the show at Cannes Film Festival in 2018 © Jaguar PS / Shutterstock

A mere 30-minute drive from neighbouring Nice, the cobbled streets of Cannes' oldest quarter, Le Suquet, are glistening in the golden-hour glow. The dinner menus are out, the tables are set, the staff eager to welcome diners in for the evening. Yet, there is barely a soul in sight, which is highly unusual for Cannes just days before the world's biggest film stars descend on the French coastal city to attend its famous festival.

The sky is rumbling. The rain is about to hit. And hit, it does. Hard. As we run for cover and take refuge inside the 11th-century hilltop castle, along with a loved-up couple and a photographer also laughing it off, deafening thunder and lightning crank up the drama.

A couple kiss at Cannes castle whilst a rainbow beams across the sky in the background
Romance and rainbows in the air at Cannes castle © Coralie Modschiedler / Lonely Planet

Within minutes, the rain stops, the skies clear and the day's last sunrays peer through the clouds to reveal not one but two rainbows.

The views over Cannes' yacht-filled harbour and terracotta rooftops – backed by the Esterel mountain range and the Lérins Islands – are simply outstanding.

As the lovebirds steal a kiss under the double rainbow, the photographer who is snapping away confirms they just got engaged. You couldn't make it up. Straight out of a rom com.

The cream shopfront of the Tredici Restaurant in Cannes with chairs outside
Tredici is where you're more likely to find local diners than film stars © Coralie Modschiedler / Lonely Planet

Cheap things to do in Cannes

Cannes often gets a bad rep for budget travellers; it gets overlooked.  The glitz, the glamour, the hiked-up prices, the bling. So much bling. Beyond strolling along the Croisette promenade to gawp at the super yachts, luxury hotels and eye-wateringly expensive boutiques, what else is there to see or do?

Well, strolling around Le Suquet, for one. An old fishing village dating back to Roman times, it's where you'll find Cannes' soul, as well as the bustling Forville market, the medieval castle with its sweeping views, and unpretentious bars and restaurants.

Feeling peckish? If your vibe is more charmingly authentic regional fare than swish gastronomic affairs, locals swear by Tredici and Bistrot Gourmand in the old town.

If you're after something a little more special that won't break the bank, newcomer Uva, on the other side of town, serves top-notch Mediterranean cooking matched by an excellent list of over 400 wines. At the foot of Le Suquet is the old port, established in 1838, where the fishermen who supply the stalls in Forville still moor their boats, not far from the flashy yachts of the super-rich.

The sun sets over Cannes' famed La Croisette beach in France
The sun sets over Cannes' famed La Croisette beach in France © elleon / Shutterstock

The best beaches in Cannes are now even better

Cannes' famous beaches are worth exploring, too. In fact, they've never looked better. La Croisette is currently undergoing a major facelift that's already seen its entire stretch of sand extended and more than doubled in size in the last year or so. All the private beaches and restaurants to the west side of the Croisette (from Hotel Martinez to Vegaluna) have been entirely renovated.

Next winter, attention turns to the east side, while extended sidewalks, new cycle paths and improved parking are expected to be completed by 2022 – overall, the biggest transformation the city has undergone in over 50 years.

The palm tree lined facade of the InterContinental Carlton Hotel in Cannes, France
The famous facade of the InterContinental Carlton hotel is a sight in itself © Coralie Modschiedler / Lonely Planet

Star-studded: the Cannes hotels ready for the red carpet

There are a selection of new hotels adding to the remarkable collection of belle époque gems already lining the shores, including new four-star Hotel Verlaine – the place to stay if you're prepared to splash a little cash.

But even if you're not, it's free to stroll along the Croisette and appreciate the architecture from afar. The regal Carlton InterContinental, with its twin emerald domes, is the hotel choice of many film stars. As we say in French: ‘Après la pluie, le beau temps’. After the rain comes better weather – in other words, there are better days ahead.

Maybe it's time that Cannes draws the audience it deserves?

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